Willowing wool

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.

Willowing wool is an ancient technique where you use two willow sticks (or some other bendy wood) to whip the wool. This helps to open up the locks, get air in to the wool and vegetable matter out.

An ancient technique

There are illustrations from the European middle ages of people willowing wool, but I can imagine the technique has been used ever since wool has been used for spinning. In my book Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller, it says that wool beating used to be an occupation. The wool beaters usually also traded in wool, whipped it and blended to get an even quality. The finished blends would then be sold to mitten producers. Also, people would of course beat the wool in rural homes as a first step of processing their own wool.

The cover of a book. The cover has two hands with unspun wool between them. The back of a sheep in the background
Ull – hemligheter, möjligheter, färdigheter by Kerstin Gustafsson and Alan Waller. A Swedish wool rarity from 1987.

Five years ago I went to the west coast of Sweden together with my wool traveling friend Anna for a one-week spinning course. The teacher was Lena Köster, a Swedish master spinner. She taught us to whip the wool, and it was great fun.

The origin of a word

Since the technique has been performed with soft sticks, usually willow, it has been called willowing. This word root (!) has remained even after the start of the industrialism. A machine that was designated to open up the locks, remove vegetable matter and blend the wool was called a willowing machine, willy or willower. As a linguistic geek, I just love the substantial origin of the word.

The definition of the word willow, willy:
The origin of the word willow has ancient roots. From the Cassell Concise English dictionary.

Angels and devils

I was told that the flying locks used to be called angels. The higher the angels flew the more air had been let in to the wool and the better the wool was whipped. And they do look like angels – white, fuzzy  and endlessly beautiful. And, oh, another word for the willowing machine was devil. If you have ever seen a willowing machine (or a wool picker for that matter) you will understand. It looks like your average Tudor era torture tool.

The origin of a video

As it happened, I had a bunch of willow sticks lying around the house. I had made a low hurdle for a flower bed and bought willow sticks for this purpose. Yes, I shouldn’t need to buy sticks when there are lots of them in the woods, but I have made this hurdle several times with maple saplings, and it just won’t last. But I digress.

A willow hurdle around a flower bed
My sweet willow hurdle

It also happened that I had a fleece in the fleece storage (aka our sofa bed) that had a little too much vegetable matter in it. Recently, there has been lots of discussions on a facebook spinning forum about vegetable matter and the best way to get rid of it. I had suggested whipping the wool. so I had recently picked the thought up from deep within my memory storage.

Willowing wool – shooting

So, I picked a spot on our terrace to shoot a video of willowing wool, sat myself down on the floor and started willowing. It was a lot of fun. My daughter came by and helped me whip for a while. She said: ‘You look really happy, Mum, like a five-year-old who just got an ice-cream cone.’ Indeed. An ice-cream cone made of wool.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground, willowing wool
Willowing wool can be an adventurous affair with obtrusive angels attacking.

I shot the video from one angle unpaused. The whole uncut clip was about 50 minutes (I edited it down to four minutes). I spent a lot of that time gathering lost wool angels. There was a breeze, and I can vouch for that the time spent chasing wool increases proportionally to the increase of wind speed. This particular wind was a whimsical one, it had a hard time deciding where to blow.

Josefin Waltin sitting on the ground with wool in front of her.
Gathering lost angels

I got the music from the free music archive. Using the search words ‘fly’ and ‘high’, I found this beautiful harp piece by Anne van Schotorst. It’s called Birds came flying. I think it suited my flying angels quite well.

I hope you like the video.

Happy willowing!

 

 

New video: Spinning around the world

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supported spindle

I made a new video: Spinning around the world. Often, you see me sitting on a stone somewhere in a Swedish fairytale forest. In this video I will visit your forests.

The conservatory

The video was shot in the Edvard Anderson conservatory at the Bergius botanical garden in Stockholm, Sweden. Edvard Anderson (b. 1865) donated his fortune to the Bergius Gardens for a conservatory of Mediterranean plants that the people of Stockholm could enjoy all year round. He also wanted a café in the conservatory, selling coffee, soft drinks, chocolates and pastries. The conservatory opened in 1995 and we have had season tickets since then.

Our son was born in 2003 and he was baptized in the entrance pond which is seen at the beginning of the video.

Spinning around the world

The conservatory is built up of seven different climate regions with the main hall dedicated to Mediterranean plants. Six smaller halls contain plants from tropical and sub tropical rain forests, tropical ferns, deserts and the area in south western Australia. I shot short clips in all of the halls, except for the Australia hall – there was nowhere to sit or place my tripod.

In the tropical hall there was also a fiber section with fiber and dye plants – ramie, New Zealand flax, different kinds of cotton, Indigo, Chinese Indigo and paper mulberry.

Chinese Indigo
Chinese Indigo in the fiber section

Lots of cotton wads were hanging from the cotton plants, enticing me with their squishiness. I asked one of the gardeners what they were doing with the cotton. I figured that if they harvested it and didn’t know what to do with it, I could adopt some of it and spin it. The answer was that they didn’t do anything with it – everything was supposed to have its natural cycle. Hence, they let everything fall to the forest floor and contribute to the natural cycle of the forest. Which of course was reasonable and logic – no cotton for me.

A cotton plant with extra-long staple cotton
Extra-long staple cotton

Longwool for embroidery

The wool I chose for this video is a beautiful shiny white lamb rya. Last August I participated in a live spinning competition. The contestants prepared and spun singles from the same wool in front of an audience for 30 minutes on spindles or wheels. The wool was this rya and we all got about 50 grams each of it. Quite generous, since I only combed three bird’s nests and spun two of them in the competition. I had nearly forgot that I had brought the rest of it home.

Two hand-combed tops and some locks of white Rya wool
Pretty bird’s nests of lamb Rya

I am planning to do some embroidery and I figured this Rya would be a perfect candidate for my embroidery yarn. I combed the fiber and made beautiful bird’s nests, almost too pretty to spin.

Long rya is not the easiest fiber to spin on a supported spindle. The fibers are very long and sleek. This means that you have to keep a good distance between the hands to be able to draft. This is not always easy. But, as with all spinning, you have to get to know the fiber before you can spin it to its full potential.

Thank you for all your kind words about my blog and videos. You are my biggest source of inspiration!

Happy spinning!

A skein of white yarn
A finished skein of Rya yarn, spun and 2-plied on a supported spindle. 101 m and 46 g, 2207 m/kg.

Medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval costume

Since I started spinning with in-hand spindles and distaff in the beginning of the year, I have wanted to make a medieval style spinning video. I did actually make a short video in the cold winter, but it was a great challenge to work with cold lanolin and stiff hands. I realized that I had to wait for spring to make a proper video.

Medieval assistance

While waiting for spring to happen, I talked to my friend Maria. She is a medieval enthusiast and reenactor of epic proportions. She is also one half of Historical textiles and a mean plant dyer and weaver. I asked her if she was willing to help me with the videography and contemporary costume and she was happy to do it.

We synced our calendars and decided on a date to shoot the medieval video. Lucky for us, the agreed occasion turned out to be a beautiful spring day. It was also quite windy, which made our dresses and wimples ripple flatteringly in the wind.

Two women dressed in medieval clothes, spinning and combing wool
Maria and I on the set, crafting away

The costume

Maria came with a huge backpack filled with medieval clothing, all hand sewn by her. Everything else was also hand made – wool combs, belt, hair pins, wimple pins and shoes. It was such an honour to wear all these hand made treasures. I got a sturdy hand woven linen robe (which doesn’t show) and on top of that an indigo dyed woolen dress. An intricately arranged linen headdress, a hand woven belt and hand made shoes. I added the string with spindle whorls. Despite the warm weather, the clothing felt quite airy and comfortable and I never got too hot (or a sun burn). That’s natural materials for ya! Maria says the costume dates to the high fashion of the 1360’s in today’s Northern Germany or Scandinavia.

Josefin Waltin in medieval clothing
Woolen dress (with a linen robe underneath) and linen wimple. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Shooting

We shot the whole video in a nearby forest. The thinly leather soled shoes were very smooth and it was a challenge to get around in the slopes of the forest without slipping. It was not that kind of video I was looking for. I also got a severe thigh rash. Medieval women must have had very thick inner thigh skin. Or perhaps they didn’t have hearty biker thighs.

As we walked to and from the set, we met lots of Saturday strollers. In the typical Stockholm way (never, never, ever stare at or comment on anything out of the ordinary, just roll your eyes when you are sure no one can see you), many people passed us without any comment, but a few people did stop to ask us about what we were up to. They were curious about our costumes, how they were made, when they were from etc. Some people asked if we were nuns. Maria explained that we were regular people from the time around 1360. Nuns dressed in the latest fashion, so this is how they dressed back then. They have just stuck with that fashion ever since, at least the Bridgettines.

The tools

In the video, I spin on spindles from Hershey fiber arts and NiddyNoddyUK. They both have spiral notched tips. The whorls on the spindles are from Pallia. On the leather string in my belt you can see additional whorls from Pallia, John Rizzi and Hershey fiber arts. Both distaffs are my own hand carved. On the belt distaff I have arranged hand carded wool from a prize winning Värmland fleece (just like in this video) and on the hand distaff there is hand carded comb leftovers from Shetland sheep.

Spinning and drafting

When I spin on a medieval style in-hand spindle, I tend to start by using a proper in-hand style and not let go of the spindle. When I feel I have enough twist, I let go of the spindle and use a very short suspension and let the tip of the spindle rest against my thumb. This way I can grab the spindle quickly whenever I need to.

If I use a hand distaff I usually keep the yarn straight by moving my distaff hand away from the spindle. If I use a belt distaff I tend to wrap the yarn onto my distaff hand to keep the yarn from slacking and still hold the spindle in a comfortable position. You can see both these techniques in the video.

Josefin Waltin spinning with a spindle and distaff, dressed in medieval clothing
In-hand spinning with a hand distaff.

In my latest in-hand spinning video, someone asked me if I’m drafting with my left (fiber) hand or if I’m just pulling with my right (spinning) hand. When I spin with a hand distaff, there isn’t much room for the fingers to draft. But even with a belt distaff, I’m not drafting very much. I just let the fibers settle themselves in the twist with the draft of my spindle hand. That usually works just fine when I have prepared the fleece myself (which I usually do) and left just the right amount of lanolin in it to assist my drafting. Perhaps I would use my fiber hand for drafting if I were to use a short draw. I haven’t tried that yet, though.

A 3-ply yarn and two medieval style spindles
3-ply yarn spun on a medieval style spindle and distaff from hand carded batts. 49 g, 97 m, 1981 m/kg. Soft and fluffy as a cloud. Spindle shafts and whorls from Hershey fiber arts and John Rizzi.

I hope you enjoy the video. I (we) certainly enjoyed making it.

Happy spinning!

 

Portuguese spindle

Josefin Waltin spinning on a Portuguese spindle and distaff

I have a new spindle! I am smitten with distaff spinning bug, as you may have noticed on my recent posts on medieval style spinning and distaff carving. The spindle I bought is a Portuguese spindle. I ordered it from Saber Fazer in Portugal and it arrived just a couple of days ago.

Pretty package

There is something about the experience of opening something and revealing its content. It becomes so obvious if the sender has put their heart and soul in the package. When I opened the postal bag, I found two smaller paper bags, stamped with the brand and a sheep. Both bags were taped with fancy tape.

Two white paper bags with sheep on them
Pretty paper bags

Inside were, except for the spindle and wool, a thank you card and a postcard with botanical style flax anatomy on it. So simple, yet so heartwarming and effective. Organic too, there was no plastic at all, except for the bubble wrap on the inside of the postal bag.

Close-up of a spindle with the text Saber Fazer
Details, details

The spindle

The Portuguese spindle is quite simple in its appearance, just a pear shaped spindle with a spiraled notch.

Two paper bags with wool and a spindle
Beautifully wrapped spinning tools

The spiral starts in the center of the tip of the shaft so that the yarn stays securely in place. The spindle is made from unfinished maple. The spindle weighs 32 g and is about 30 cm.

I haven’t found much information about the Portuguese spindle. There are some images and a bit of info on the spindle index at the university of Innsbruck.

Close-up of the end of a spindle
The groovy groove

The fiber I got together with the spindle is from a local Portuguese sheep breed called Campaniça. I haven’t found any information about them. The wool is quite bouncy and has a nice resist. It is machine carded and without lanolin. I also got a smaller piece of brown combed fiber, which I think may be Portuguese merino.

Dressing the distaff

I dressed one of my hand distaffs with the Campaniça wool. I just rolled it around the distaff so that the direction of the fibers were perpendicular to the drafting. That way I would get a lofty yarn in a woolen-ish sort of drafting technique. I did try to spin the combed brown fiber with the fibers parallel to the drafting, but it was quite difficult and I got lots of lumps.

The spinning

I haven’t found much information on either the Portuguese spindle or the technique, just a few short video clips. The clips show spinning with and without a distaff. I chose to use a distaff because I think it organizes the fiber better. In retrospect, maybe I should have used a belt distaff, since it would make it easier to draft than from the hand distaff.

At first I was quite frustrated, since there wasn’t much action in the spinning. But when I got a bit of yarn onto the spindle, it spun easier. I spun in-hand to draft out the fiber and with short suspension to add twist. I haven’t seen any short suspension in the videos of Portuguese spindle spinning, though. In one description of the technique it said that the spindle never leaves the spinner’s hand, so maybe I spin in an unorthodox way when I spin with a short suspension.

Spring is here!

As I wrote earlier, I’m eagerly awaiting spring so that I can spin outdoors again and make videos. Well, spring is here and so is my first spinning video!

Portuguese spindle and fiber from Saber Fazer and hand distaff is from Hershey fiber arts. Shawl is my handspun and hand woven, featured in my YouTube video Slow fashion – from sheep to shawl.

Happy spinning!

Makeshift studio for online courses

A lavalier microphone

As I have mentioned before, I am planning to make online spinning courses for those who are too far from me or otherwise can’t make it to my local spinning courses. Online course making is totally new to me and I am reading up a lot, trying, failing and learning from my mistakes. My current experiment in this project is to design a makeshift studio.

Studio for control

To be able to shoot online courses I need a studio. My YouTube videos are all shot outside and without sound. I will not change that, but for online courses I need a place where I can control the audio. And I don’t want to put my home on display.

I have made a portable makeshift studio that consists of a simple backdrop, a tripod and a lavalier microphone. These will be teamed up with fill lights and noise reduction textiles depending on where I set up the studio.

Two possible studio locations

I tried the studio setup in two rooms – the “craft” room (e.g. the rubbish room) and the living room. These have different advantages and disadvantages. The craft room is very small and can be difficult to arrange for different spinning setups. It has only one window and can be a bit dark depending on time of the day and season. I can close the door and record without having to bother my family too much, and they won’t bother me. The sound is quite good in this room. The living room, on the other hand, is big and bright with windows in different directions. The sound is not as good as in the craft room. The living room is also a room where the whole family spends a lot of time and I can basically only shoot there when the family is out of the house.

Video experiment

I made a video with my two locations to see how they work in action. I also wanted to try some editing features. Please give me your feedback! What works and what doesn’t work? What do you want to see more of and what can be improved?

New and the same

Online courses are a new element in what I’m offering my viewers. I invest a lot of time and research in these so I will charge for them, but it will be money well spent.

I’m not comfortable with sharing the content of my upcoming courses on an open blog. However, I will reveal some of my ideas for my patrons on my Patreon page and patrons will get the chance to influence the content.

I will continue with the blog and the YouTube videos just as I have so far and they will always be free. However, these are also products of my time and they don’t produce themselves. Do become a patron if you like what I do.

And oh, I will iron that sheet.

 

Learning new things – medieval style spinning

Josefin Waltin drafting wool from a distaff

I’m in a process where I’m learning new things. Learning a new skill is a beautiful experience. To be able to meet a new technique from a perspective of a beginner allows me to experiment with new tools before I have had the chance to decide which tools to get comfortable with. It teaches me to be humble before the learning process. For a moment I can step outside of myself and watch me gradually grasp the new technique.

Learning to spin medieval style

The purpose of my romance with the ever so charming process of learning is the art of spinning medieval style with a distaff. In this, there are several new things for me to learn:

  • The technique to spin on a new kind of spindle with a new technique
  • How to dress and draft from a distaff
  • How to spin and draft with the wrong hand

Medieval style spinning technique

The medieval spindle technique can be described as a third kind of technique along with suspended and supported spindle spinning. It is a grasped kind of spinning or in-hand spinning. But one of the beauties of spinning medieval style is that you can combine it with suspended spinning (long and short) and support spinning, all according to the circumstances in which you are spinning.

When spinning in-hand style, the yarn goes over the top of the spindle shaft, much like it does with supported spinning. I just love that light pattering sound of the thread snapping off the spindle tip for every turn of the spindle. Check out Cathelina di Alessandri‘s videos at 15th century spinning for great technique instructions.

The distaff

Working with a distaff is totally new to me. I have a hand-held distaff and a belt distaff. The first task is to dress the distaff. I prefer to hand-card my fleece, and so I do my best to assemble 20–25 grams of hand-carded batts on my distaff. I had lots of inspiration from Luca Costigliolo.

My hand distaff is hand turned by Caroline Hershey at Hershey Fiber arts. My belt distaff is hand-carved by my son when he was eight. He was inspired by the wizarding world and wanted to make a “magic cane”. He carved and decorated with mysterious signs and a magic gemstone on top. And when I found it a couple of weeks ago (he is 15 now and doesn’t like to throw away stuff) I saw the perfect belt distaff! A tad too short, but I can live with that. I am planning to carv myself some new ones though, in various lengths for hand-held, belt and floor distaff spinning.

Changing hands

In almost all of my spinning my left hand is my spinning hand and my right hand is my fiber hand. I tried this with in-hand spinning, but I got a cramp in my left hand all the time. The motion is the same whether you spin with your right or left hand, but if you want a specific spinning direction the motion will be different. Unless I spin for something special, I always spin clockwise. Spinning clockwise with your right hand means moving your first and second fingers outwards, away from your body. Spinning clockwise with tour left hand means moving your fingers inward towards your center. And apparently this didn’t work for me. So I switched. I know it is possible, since I have done it with Navajo spindle spinning for similar reasons.

A person holding a spindle
Learning to spin with the wrong hand

Changing an incorporated muscular pattern does take its time, though. But today I really felt progress and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having some sort of control over my right hand muscles.

Video plans

I have plans to make a video with medieval style spinning. It’s still a little cold outside, though. The lanolin isn’t on its best behaviour in -7°C. Believe me, I have tried. Today in fact. So I will give you a short sneak peak of my learning process from a cold and snowy Stockholm. Enjoy!

The spindle is one of the spiral notched spindle shafts from NiddyNoddyUK that I unboxed the other day and the whorl is from John Rizzi. Hat pattern is Ella Gordon‘s Crofthoose hat in my handspun yarn and the shawl is my handspun and handwoven from my video Slow Fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl. The fiber I am spinning is a prize winning Värmland fleece. Wonderful to work with and it drafts like a dream. Just not in winter temperatures.

There will be more! In the meantime I will continue to practice and learn.

Plying in Mongolia

Next in our journey around the spinning world is Mongolia. I found this wonderful clip of a woman singing and plying in a Mongolian yurt.

The spindle and the technique looks similar to the ones in Nepal I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The spindle is quite long with a top whorl and she starts the spinning by rolling it against her thigh. She looks quite happy and, frankly, so would I, spinning in the coziness of a yurt.

Ancient spinning technique in Ecuador

First of all: Happy St Distaff’s day! I’m celebrating with some distaff spinning of my own and watching spinning videos.

I found a couple of inspiring clips of some beautiful and very old distaff spinning technique in Ecuador. The spindle is held almost horizontally in the outer end and the thread goes over the spindle tip closest to the distaff. In the first video the spinner is using wool and has a belt distaff.

In the second video the spinner is using cotton and a separate floor distaff. She is also rolling the yarn onto a temporary cop, just like I do when I spin supported. Now and then she dips her spinning hand in what looks like water, perhaps to get a better grip on the spindle.

Spinning playlists on YouTube

I have tried to organize my YouTube channel by making playlists. This way, it will hopefully be easier for you to find what you are looking for. For example, I have made playlists of how-to videos on support spindle spinning, Navajo spindle spinning and plying. I also made a separate playlist of documentary style spinning, including my Slow fashion 1 and 2, Spinning through the seasons and my latest video For the love of spinning. Finally, I made two playlists of videos that are not my own: One on spinning with distaff and/or in-hand spinning (I will write more about this technique in upcoming posts) and one of spinning around the world (with some of the videos I have written about lately).

Spinning in Nepal

I found a few videos of people spinning in Nepal. First off is a woman spinning suspended on a bottom whorl spindle. I think there is a notch at the top of the shaft. She spins wool from a ball of what I think is pre-drafted roving. She pulls out a length first and butterflies it on her spinning hand and starts the spindle between the palm of her hands.

In the second video two women are spinning on similar spindles with the same technique and the balls of roving attached to their belts. They also lead the thread over the top of their heads. As a bonus, the third woman is carrying her child in a sling on her back, something that brings back sweet memories from when we carried our youngest in all sorts of slings.

In the third video, a man is spinning on a spindle that looks the same as in the first two videos. He has arranged his roving (yak?) around his wrist and spins in-hand style.

Eventhough all the spinners are standing, the videos show spinning arranged for mobility. The tools and techniques are adapted to a moving life. Staying in the same place doesn’t seem to be relevant.

In a fourth video, a man is spinning nettle with an in-hand spinning style. The spindle looks completely different from the three above. The strick of hemp is arranged somehow, either on a distaff or over the spinner’s shoulder, it is hard to tell from the video.

That’s all for today!